Basic Vanilla Buttercream Recipe

vanilla buttercream recipe by sugar and sparrow

I’ve tested a ton of buttercream recipes in my day, but my go-to is a super simple American buttercream recipe that I’ve tweaked to my liking. I’ve used this recipe for frosting countless cakes and cupcakes and I’m a big believer that a good vanilla buttercream is something every baker should have in their recipe box. There’s nothing fancy about the way this recipe is made, but it will certainly taste like you whipped up something special!

best vanilla buttercream recipe by sugar and sparrow

Making sure you use a good quality vanilla extract or paste is one of the secrets to success. You can use any kind of vanilla extract or paste, but I always use bourbon vanilla (I get mine from Trader Joe’s!) to give it a rich vanilla flavor. The other secret to success? Room temperature everything. That means taking the milk and butter out and letting them come to room temperature for about a half hour to an hour before you start any mixing. 

vanilla buttercream recipe by sugar and sparrow
5 from 7 votes

Vanilla Buttercream

A rich, flavorful vanilla buttercream that is so easy to whip up, but tastes like you made something special. 

Prep Time 20 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Servings 3 cups


  • 1 cup (226g) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3 1/2 cups (420g) powdered sugar, sifted
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 Tbsp whole milk or heavy whipping cream, room temperature
  • pinch of salt, or to taste


  1. With a hand mixer or paddle attachment on your stand mixer, cream the butter on medium-high until it’s creamy and light (almost white) in color. About 7 minutes. 

  2. Add the sifted powdered sugar, one cup at a time, scraping down after each addition and making sure each cup is fully incorporated before adding the next one. 

  3. Add vanilla, milk, and salt and mix on medium-low for another two minutes until fully incorporated. 

Tips for the best buttercream consistency

There are three types of consistency for buttercream that you need to know, and each one plays a different role in cake decorating.

Thin Consistency

This is what you want if you’re frosting a cake, especially if you want a smooth buttercream finish. This buttercream is pretty thin consistency as-is, so it’s super easy to spread smoothly onto cakes. To test and make sure you’ve got a thin consistency going, you should be able to dip your rubber spatula into the buttercream and it will come out with smooth peaks and spread easily when you move your finger over it.

best buttercream consistency for frosting cake

Medium Consistency

If you’re about to pipe some cupcakes or intricate designs around a cake (like a shell border), medium consistency will help your buttercream hold the design without drooping. To achieve it, just add an extra half cup of powdered sugar per batch to the above recipe. 

best buttercream for piping cupcakes recipe

Stiff Consistency

If you’re piping buttercream flowers, especially ones with petals that need to stand upright, you’ll need a stiff consistency. Add an extra cup powdered sugar per batch of the above recipe to achieve this. When you dip your rubber spatula into the frosting, it should come out with stiff peaks, but when you pipe with it, make sure it’s not so thick that you have to put a ton of extra pressure on the bag or clog the piping tip. If you’re running into these problems, fear not! You can tone it down by adding whole milk, 1 tsp at a time, until it’s just right.

how to make buttercream flowers


    • Hallo, wat is dit ‘whole milk or heavy whipping cream’???
      Alvast bedankt

      • Hi Aygul! Whole milk has the highest butterfat percentage of any dairy milk (as opposed to “2%” or “skim milk”, etc) and heavy whipping cream is basically whole milk with an even higher butterfat percentage. What kind of milk do you have over there? I can offer a recommendation if you don’t have access to whole milk or heavy whipping cream.

        • Hi Whitney,

          while I do have whole milk and heavy whipping cream I’m curious to hear your other recommendation. I don’t generally have either at home as we don’t drink milk and the heavy cream always goes to waste after the couple tbsps I use out of the cartons :/


          • Hi Maria! This recipe is best with either whole milk or heavy whipping cream. I’ve never tried it with any other liquid, but I suppose you could substitute it with any liquid dairy you have on hand. Let me know if you try it with something as a substitute!

  1. Jodie Becker

    Hi Whitney, thanks for your tips!! Buttercream is always too sweet for me. Is there any other ways to make it stiffer without making it sweeter?

    • Hi Jodie! I hate having buttercream that’s too sweet, which is why my recipe includes less powdered sugar than normal and the addition of salt. If the stiffened version of this recipe is still too sweet for your liking, try adding an extra pinch or two of salt to even out the flavor.

      • Hi, Am from Peru, and am new in the world of pastry. I followed you for a while, but i didn´t know you have a blog. I love your work, and found this tips it´s awesome. Thanks for sharing all your secrets.
        My question is, when you said less powdered sugar and the addition of salt, you meant like change quantities? And if i use less powdered sugar, my buttercream will be thin? I used 334gr of margarine and 167gr of shortening, and 1kg of powder sugar. And i have same problem, flavor its to sweet. I use a peruvian escense called: Leche condensada, not Vanilla. Thanks again for your tips, and by just reading my comment am happy! Best of wishes always!

        • Hi Johanna! Thanks so much for the kind words! Depending on the consistency of the buttercream (if you want it thicker for piping things like buttercream flowers or thinner for frosting a cake) I recommend using different amounts of powdered sugar, as specified in the Consistency section of this post after the recipe. If your buttercream is too sweet, you can add a little extra salt to tone it down. I always just taste as I go. Hope that helps!

  2. Elizabeth Lewis

    Thank you Whitney! I am new to your blog amd I adore it already! You’re posts are to the point, and funny and your recipes aren’t overwhelmingly or complicated! From this busy F/t Mommy, big thanks!

    Blessings to you!

  3. Wow!!! Ur recipes are sooo wonderful and amazing. I just love them. It’s soooo simple and easy to understand. Thnks a lot for sharing ur wonderful recipes with everyone

  4. Hi. After frosting the cake, should I refrigerate it or is it okay to keep it in room temperature?

    • Hi Debbie! While you can technically leave the frosted cake at room temperature for up to two days, I usually refrigerate it until about an hour before serving the cake. I only do that to ensure the frosting stays picture perfect + the cake is easier to handle for a delivery if it’s cold. Just make sure you serve the cake at room temperature because it tastes better that way!

  5. Donna B Oliphint

    I live in middle Alabama, and all butter buttercream will melt in my kitchen, much less during transport even if it’s been refrigerated. Do you have any tips for making it more stable. Currently, I use 1/2 butter and 1/2 Crisco. I’ve just learned about SweetX, but wondered about the taste.

  6. Your cake is gorgeous!! I have a quick question about the sifted powdered sugar. Do you measure first then sift into the creamer butter or do you sift into a measuring cup? Thanks!!

    • Hi Marlena! I usually sift the powdered sugar into a big bowl, then spoon it into a measuring cup and level it off before adding it to the butter. Hope that helps!

  7. Hello! I would like to know if with these quantities you decorate the whole cake or make more quantity of cream. Thank you

    • Hi Martina! I double the recipe if I’m filling and frosting a 6 inch cake, but as-is it will fill and frost a 4 inch cake or can be used to decorate about 18-20 cupcakes. Hope that helps!

  8. Sunshine

    I use crisco in my icing. Can I use the same ratio you have with the butter? Also, what about the butter crisco? Thoughts?

    • Hi Sunshine! I’ve never tried this recipe with Crisco or Butter Crisco, so it would be an experiment for you! I think it’s worth trying though, and if you do I would try it with the same ratio I have with butter. Let me know if you try it, I’m curious now!

  9. Hola es la primera vez que entro en tu blog, y vaya me encantó. Mi pregunta es, cuánto dura la consistencia de la crema si hago una torta con picos como la de unicornio que tú hiciste, pero si la dejo al aire libre en un cumpleaños

    • Hola, Leonela, haría la crema de mantequilla de consistencia media y debería estar bien salir en una fiesta de cumpleaños al aire libre durante una hora o dos, siempre que la temperatura exterior sea de 75 grados o menos. Si hace más calor que eso, dejaría la torta en el refrigerador hasta una hora antes de servirla.

  10. Ho There,
    How long does the buttercream last? Do you think it is OK to make the buttercream in advance, store it in the fridge, and then bring it back to room temp before using? Thanks so much!

    • Hi Heather! I make this buttercream recipe ahead all the time. You can store it in an airtight container at room temperature for two days, then rewhip it with your stand mixer to bring it back to creamy consistency. If you’re wanting to store it for longer than two days, place it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. When you’re ready to use it, bring it back to room temp and rewhip with your mixer before using. Hope that helps!

      • I made the buttercream and it is absolutely delicious!! I’m so excited about this recipe! One more question, once the cake is frosted what is the best way to store it? Do you cover it with plastic wrap or a cake platter with lid?

        • Yay, Heather! So happy to hear that! Once the cake is frosted, the buttercream acts as a barrier to hold moisture within the cake, so there’s no need to cover it with additional plastic wrap, etc. I just keep it in the refrigerator until a few hours before serving.

  11. Do you have a similar recipe for chocolate buttercream frosting?

  12. Jessica H.

    I’ve nevwr loved an ABC frosting more than this! & the smoothest I’ve ever been able to get on a cake. Thank you for the recipe!

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